Now that America's nemesis, Osama bin Laden, is gone, it's a good time to scrutinize Washington's ongoing interests in South and Central Asia. The Great Game is very much in play and we need to ask whether Canada should be a footman on America's war carriage.
Relax, I won't bore you by claiming this is all about oil. It's about oil and gas and a whole gaggle of insanely valuable mineral resources and it's about China and Russia and America and which of them will hold sway in this strategically important region.
For a host of reasons, none of them remotely tied to terrorism, the United States wants to be top dog in a new, united Asian region. This is nearly as much about keeping Russian and Chinese influence at bay as it is in securing the great, largely untapped resources of the region.
The Taliban could lay down their arms and open up ice cream parlours tomorrow and Washington would still want a permanent presence in Afghanistan and a dominant influence over the neighbouring Stans plus Iraq plus India. It wasn't that long ago that the Americans showed up in Baghdad begging to be allowed to keep their key bases manned after the scheduled end-of-year pullout of American forces. They're even less interested in leaving Afghanistan any time in the foreseeable future.
Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the John Hopkins University. Starr proposed a matrix for a "Great Central Asia cooperative partnership for development" with the US taking the lead, the five Central Asian states and Afghanistan entering as the main members, and India and Pakistan participating.
Starr wrote, ''The main idea of the proposal is to take the US control of the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity, promote optional and flexible cooperation in security, democracy, economy, transport and energy, and, make up a new region by combining Central Asia with South Asia. The United States is to shoulder the role of a midwife to promote the rebirth of the entire region. "
America intends to stay put and establish something like a Central Asian Monroe Doctrine. Russia and China, however, are making their own moves on the region which, unlike America, lies in their backyard.
Russian and Chinese diplomats ...are now ready to unveil their new avatar in the forthcoming summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana on June 15. To sum up a long story, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a terse remark on May 15 following a meeting of SCO foreign ministers in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ''A few days ago, Afghanistan submitted a request to grant it observer status. The request will be considered at the upcoming [SCO] summit.''
What he didn't say was that earlier in the week, Afghan Foreign Minister Rasoul paid a four-day visit to Beijing and discussed his country's proposal with the Chinese government. The Afghans, Russians and the Chinese seem to have acted in concert and with a speediness that probably took the Obama administration by surprise. The US has been consistently discouraging Kabul from any dangerous liaison with the SCO.
Kabul's ''defection'' constitutes a setback to the US's diplomacy in the Central Asian region, which Washington has been lately insisting is brimming with renewed energy. It certainly weakens the push by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) push to secure long-term military bases in Afghanistan. Put simply, it reduces Washington's capacity to pressure Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.
...Lavrov further revealed that India and Pakistan had both submitted formal applications for upgrading their observer status to full membership of SCO and he hinted that the Astana summit would grant the membership. Clearly, Moscow and Beijing have simultaneously steered the Indian, Pakistani and Afghan applications.
This suggests a broad conceptualization and understanding of the emergent regional security scenario in South Asia on the part of Moscow and Beijing. Ironically, Afghanistan is all set now to become the ''hub'' that will bring Central Asia and South Asia together - except that the historic process is taking place not under US stewardship, as Starr conceived, Bush probably wanted and Obama failed to follow up, but under Chinese and Russian partnership.
Imagine American hegemony over Central and South Asia, won at such enormous cost in lives and treasure, being displaced by the Chinese and Russians with the stroke of a pen. What can America possibly offer the region that China can't handily trump? America is fractured, distracted and in decline. China is ascendant and literally next door.
What is concerning is how this will play into America's modern militarism due to which, Andrew Bacevich points out, military force instead of diplomacy has become the instrument of choice in American foreign policy. Losing this region and its vast resources to the Chinese will likely accelerate the decline of American hegemony in other regions of the world including the Middle East and Africa. Is this a ship America is willing to give up without a fight?
What possible business is it of Canada's to become entangled in this? If we continue on blindly believing our side's presence in Afghanistan is all about holding terrorism in check what unmentioned risks are we willing to run? It's about time we had a grown up discussion of what lies ahead.